Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Model of a House with Amorous Couple

Object Name:
House model
12th–early 13th century
Made in Iran
Stonepaste; molded, glazed in opaque white, luster-painted
H. 1 5/8 in. (4.1 cm) W. 6 3/8 in. (16.2 cm) D. 4 3/8 in. (11.1 cm) Wt. 18.7 oz. (530.2 g)
Credit Line:
The Grinnell Collection, Bequest of William Milne Grinnell, 1920
Accession Number:
Not on view
Ceramic house models may have been wedding gifts. The erotic imagery on the rooftop of the luster house model, complemented by inscribed good wishes, relates the object to marriage. The turquoise model’s open courtyard with pierced balustrade and corner roof projections suggests a vernacular building. A festive occasion is depicted, with seated personages holding cups and a couple dancing with raised arms. The role of the turbaned, bearded man on a high stepped stool—a figure who bears the conventional traits of older, wise, educated, or religious men—remains enigmatic.
This object belongs to a larger group of house models that provide a glimpse into vernacular Iranian practices and settings but whose original function or meaning has not yet been determined. Variably identified as hanging devices, children’s toys, and offerings to Buddhist temples, they are now more likely to be seen by scholars as representations of celebrations, such as marriages, Nawruz (the Persian New Year), or festivities related to the end of the religious fast, on which occasions such objects could have been exchanged as gifts.

This example shows one of the two main types of house models, displaying a figural plaque for a roof. The erotic imagery on the rooftop plaque, in which a woman and a turbaned man lie together beneath a folded or striped coverlet, led to the association of this and other house models with marriage, and to the hypothesis that they were used as wedding gifts.

Although the exact meaning of the scene escapes us, this house model suggests that such objects were related to the celebration or remembrance of ceremonies where food and drink were essential and which took place in embellished buildings. The mention in historical texts of castles (qasr) in silver and gold and of "houses, gardens and other such things" in wax brought as gifts to rulers echoes a wide tradition of gift giving of comparable objects. A revealing passage in Ibn Bibi (written before 1281) reveals that architectural models were indeed also part of the traditional gifts given on the occasion of marriages in the medieval period: seven castles (qusur) in gold and silver inlaid with precious stones were offered in 1227 on the occasion of the marriage of the Ayyubid princess Gaziya to the Rum Seljuq sultan Kay Qubad I. Stonepaste house models may have been a much more affordable alternative to such princely gifts.

Martina Rugiadi in [Canby, Beyazit, and Rugiadi 2016]
Inscription: Inscribed in Arabic in cursive along the top edge:
] العز الدائم )؟( ]. . . . . . . . . . . . . . [ الغالب ]. . . . . . . .
Perpetual glory (?) [. . .] Victor [. . .]1
William Milne Grinnell, New York (until d. 1920; bequeathed to MMA)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25, 2016–July 24, 2016, no. 18.

Joseph Breck. "The William Milne Grinell Bequest." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, o.s., vol. XV (1920). pp. 273-275.

An Unidentified Ceremony. Naples, 2003. p. 457, ill. pl. LXXVII (b/w).

"Ceramic House Models from Medieval Persia: Domestic Architecture and Concealed Activities." The British Institute of Persian Studies 46 (2008). p. 230, ill. fig. 6 (b/w).

George, Alain. "The Illustration of the Maqamat and the Shadow Play." Muqarnas vol. 28 (2011). pp. 29-30, ill. fig. 29 (b/w).

Ekhtiar, Maryam. "Shimmering Surfaces: Lustre Ceramics of the Islamic World." Arts of Asia vol. 42 (2012). p. 94, ill. fig. 11 (color).

Canby, Sheila R., Deniz Beyazit, and Martina Rugiadi. "The Great Age of the Seljuqs." In Court and Cosmos. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 18, pp. 78-79, ill. p. 79 (color).

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